The parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man, traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is beset by robbers, beaten, and left on the side of the road. A priest and then a Levite pass him by, and he is helped and cared for by a Samaritan. The tendency of modern Christians is to think of the Samaritan as a member of an oppressed group offering help to someone they don’t know. But this doesn’t quite capture the feeling of enmity that existed between Jewish people and the Samaritans. Both claim lineage back to Moses and both use the Torah as the source of religious observance. Where Samaritans are descended from the northern kingdom of Israel, who had Samaria as their main center of worship, the Jewish people are descended from Judah, which had Jerusalem as their main center of worship. Samaritans weren’t any more or less oppressed than the Jewish people living under Roman occupation.
What we have here, then, is a story of a Samaritan crossing boundaries by not crossing the road. He uses the money and social position he has to care for an enemy. It’s as if a Ukrainian person were to stop along the side of the road to care for a Russian person. It is unexpected, and, if enacted in real life, is violence-disrupting.
The lawyer realizes that the neighbor is the Samaritan but can’t bring himself to actually say the word. Jesus tells him to do what the Samaritan does. We are called to do the same.
In this passage, the Samaritan is “moved with pity” to act, as the lawyer observes, with “mercy.” The term translated as “moved with pity” could also be translated as “to feel compassion.” In what ways do compassion and mercy work together?
When we read stories like these, we want to identify with the person who Jesus holds up as an exemplar. Think about each character in the parable: the robbers, the priest, the Levite, the man, the Samaritan, and the innkeeper. Which of these characters have you been in your life? Which characters have you met in your life? If you were ever the Samaritan, how did you decide to act?
Sermons That Work – The Episcopal Church
Saint Thomas was a disciple who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. The first three Gospels list his name among the twelve apostles but say nothing more about him. It is in the Fourth Gospel that Thomas gains prominence — and even some notoriety. According to John, when Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem, Thomas understood what it meant and said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” But after the resurrection, Thomas refused to believe that the other disciples had seen the risen Jesus. His doubt was quashed in the most dramatic way; and in John’s account the risen Lord drove the point home by telling Thomas: “You have believed because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
In the New Testament the appearances of the risen Lord are proof that God’s saving purpose had entered its final stage. By appearing to his disciples, Jesus anticipated the still greater revelation when all the peoples of the earth will see him in glory and acknowledge him as Lord.
So Thomas was not wrong in his desire to behold and touch the Lord. But he made seeing the precondition of believing rather than its fulfillment. What blessing could he expect if, like the rest of the world, he postponed faith until the second coming, when sight will leave the world no choice but to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Those who have not seen and yet believe therefore have a unique freedom in this present age; they shall not experience the final revelation as an eternity of compelled obedience but as the everlasting moment of creation’s fulfillment.
Jesus had mercy on Thomas and healed his desire even as he granted it. In the same way we who honour the doubting apostle may pray for the healing of our own desires, that they might become a source of freedom and not of constraint when God shall fulfill our faith with the vision of Christ in glory.